EXCLUSIVE: Pablo Larraín is set to direct and Kristen Stewart to play Princess Diana in Spencer, a drama that shapes up to be a hot package for the virtual Cannes Market. The Steven Knight-scripted film covers a critical weekend in the early ‘90s, when Diana decided her marriage to Prince Charles wasn’t working, and that she needed to veer from a path that put her in line to one day be queen. The drama takes place over three days, in one of her final Christmas holidays in the House of Windsor in their Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England. Production is expected to begin in early 2021.
The package will be unveiled to buyers at the virtual Cannes Market by CAA Media Finance and FilmNation Entertainment. CAA Media Finance arranged the financing and will make the U.S. distribution deal with Endeavor Content, while FilmNation Entertainment represents international rights.
The film will be produced by Larraín, director of films that include Jackie and Neruda, along with Fabula partner Juan de Dios, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski and Paul Webster. Knight’s script work includes Eastern Promises, Peaky Blinders, Locke and The Hundred-Foot Journey.
While growing up in Chile didn’t make Larraín as obsessed as many were in Diana and Charles’ storybook wedding, or the endless coverage as their high-profile union was frayed by the pressures of fame and the crown. But he grew up reading fairy tales literature, and sees this as the antithesis of that trope.
“We all grew up, at least I did in my generation, reading and understanding what a fairy tale is,” Larraín told Deadline. “Usually, the prince comes and finds the princess, invites her to become his wife and eventually she becomes queen. That is the fairy tale. When someone decides not to be the queen, and says, I’d rather go and be myself, it’s a big big decision, a fairy tale upside down. I’ve always been very surprised by that and thought it must have been very hard to do. That is the heart of the movie.
“How and why do you decide to do that? It’s a great universal story that can reach millions and millions of people, and that’s what we want to do. We want to make a movie that goes wide, connects with a worldwide audience that is interested in such a fascinating life.”
Stewart is an intriguing choice to play Diana. She got a taste of that fishbowl life borne of fame when she starred in the blockbuster Twilight Saga films, with press hounding her every move at a very young age. She eschewed that persona, and has refashioned herself as one of the most interesting and unpredictable actresses working mostly in independent films. Now she’ll play one of the most famous women in the world at her moment of great moment existential crisis.
“Kristen is one of the great actors around today,” Larraín said. “To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery. Kristen can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile an ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need. The combination of those elements made me think of her. The way she responded to the script and how she is approaching the character, it’s very beautiful to see. I think she’s going to do something stunning and intriguing at the same time. She is this force of nature.
“I’ve seen movies from Kristen that are so diverse it’s incredible, showing different layers and her diversity and strength as an actress,” he said. “We’re very happy to have her, she’s very committed. As a filmmaker, when you have someone who can hold such a weight, dramatic and narrative weight just with her eyes, then you have the strong lead who can deliver what we are looking for.”
The film won’t deal with Diana’s tragic death after she left that palace life, but will examine the fraying of the relationship with her husband, and her ferocious love for her sons Prince William and Prince Harry. Latter married actress Meghan Markle and made a decision similar to the one made by his mother while he was just a child.
“I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by the Royal Family and how things are in that culture, which we don’t have where I come from,” Larraín said. “Diana is such a powerful icon, where millions and millions of people, not just women, but many people around the world felt empathy toward her in her life. We decided to get into a story about identity, and around how a woman decides somehow, not to be the queen. She’s a woman who, in the journey of the movie, decides and realizes that she wants to be the woman she was before she met Charles.
“It’s about finding herself, about understanding that possibly the most important thing for her is to be well, and to be with herself and by herself,” Larraín explained. “That’s why the movie is called Spencer, which is the family name she had before she met Charles. It’s very contained, set over a few days in Sandringham. They spent Christmas there for many years and that’s where we set the movie in the early ‘90s, around 1992, we’re not specific. It’s Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day, three days, very contained. We get to understand what it is she wants and what she will do.
“It’s a very energetic and beautiful script by Steven Knight, whose work I have admired for years. It’s incredible and captures what I have always found and that is an enormous amount of beauty in the power of Diana. When she had the stage of the world and what she had to say in her own story and how strong she could be when she needed to transform herself into something different, to find her own path. It’s a romantic story of a woman going through difficult times who finds the light and the solution.
“She died years after where our story is set and so we don’t deal with that,” Larraín said. “It’s only three days of her life and in that very small amount of time, you’re able to get into a wider, bigger perspective of who she was. We all know her fate, what happened to her, and we don’t need to go there. We’ll stay in this more intimate space where she could express where she wants to go and who she wants to be.
“The key is how she discovers during the process of the movie that what she really needs to do is be who she wants to be,” he said. “And by that, it doesn’t mean she needs to be next to anyone, to be part of anything, but herself and her own children. Diana was many things, but chief among them, she was a great mother. This is the story of a woman who understands the most important thing for a woman in her life is her own children.
“We believe that this is a movie that could create interest around the planet,” Larraín said. “This is a beloved, iconic women and we have everything in front of us to do a beautiful movie and we are working very hard to get it made.”
Stewart is repped by WME and McKuin Frankel; Larraín by CAA and Management 360.